In theory, cross-selling is easy: just ask purchasing customers if they want a similar, complementary product around the time of accepting a payment.

But all customers have different wants and needs. Different attitudes. A haphazard cross-sell promises minimal profit while risking that valuable yet elusive asset: the loyal customer.

How to find the balance? By knowing your customers—which can mean two very different things. Consider small businesses. They thrive on personal relationships. Over time, employees learn customers’ needs and deftly toggle between soft and hard cross-sells at the perfect time.

Bloomberg News

Amazon — whose employment has skyrocketed this year to over 350,000, and will soon increase another 50,000 — always seems to win its space, whether it’s books, the cloud or even actual space.

How does the soon-to-be $1 trillion e-commerce juggernaut get its cash? These days, a full 35% of Amazon’s revenue comes from its “Frequently Bought Together” and “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” features. That is, from traditional cross-selling around the time of shopping and payment.

Here’s the catch: This type of cross-selling is anything but traditional. No salesperson suggests products; the features are algorithmic, relying on interactive troves of customer information: databases, spreadsheets, branches.

Amazon may have more info than anyone — it's a data-mining pioneer, after all — but most retailers now have more than enough. Global IP traffic has passed one zettabyte. Capturing even a tiny slice of it could give businesses more data than they know what to do with. How do they get it in order?

Today’s smartest businesses use intelligent master data management to convert quantity into quality. According to Gartner, MDM is discipline that allows business and IT teams to work together to “ensure the uniformity, accuracy, stewardship, semantic consistency and accountability of the enterprise’s official shared master data assets.”

In the past, MDM was clunky and obtuse, passively creating data lakes (where data floats aimlessly) or data silos (where data accumulates remotely). The newest versions are sleek and agile, flexing as data streams stretch the system and business goals evolve. With intelligent MDM, companies can run sophisticated business intelligence that can both uncover cross-selling opportunities and empower employees to make them.

Today, when nearly two-thirds of businesses have undergone or are preparing to undergo a full digital transformation, cross-selling is as vital as ever. But it’s a nuanced, sensitive technique, one that, to be optimized, must harness the lifeblood of digital business: data.

When employees have a 360-degree view of relevant customer data, businesses can design more targeted, personalized cross-selling programs, something today’s customers actually expect; 79% say they want brands that understand and care about “me.” You may not be Amazon, but you can still cross-sell like Amazon and reap the rewards.